Ken Kessler contemplates how watch trends form and how that allows the value purchase market to punch above its weight.

Whenever a new trend emerges it is hard to resist the temptation to accuse the watch brands of some form of “collusion”. When we remind ourselves how long it takes the molasses-slow organism that is the Swiss watch industry to put things into production, we have to ask ourselves: how do so many brands arrive simultaneously at Baselworld or SIHH with blue/green/brown dials? Big dates? Over/under straps? Bronze cases?

We also know, it must be emphasized, that the watch brands, however competitive they appear, have always co-operated to some degree behind the scenes, so conspiracy theories are easy to feed. We are, admittedly, talking about civilized ladies and gentlemen who turn up at the same bars after hours and sit and schmooze. They all know each other, because the watch industry is formed of a tightly-knit community that sees people changing companies the way Californians wife-swapped in the 1970s.

Not so innocent: a bowl of car keys, from Lee Ang’s 1997 film, The Ice Storm
Not so innocent: a bowl of car keys, from Lee Ang’s 1997 film, The Ice Storm

They may compare notes while protecting trade secrets, but co-operation is the norm. Swatch Group still sells movements to rival manufacturers, Tudor and Breitling have swapped calibers, ad infinitum. It’s nothing new, it makes great commercial sense and it dates back to the dawn of the wristwatch. But still I wonder what leads to so many manufacturers mirroring each other’s behavior, even if inadvertently.

As I am trying to mellow, I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and turn to that riskiest of excuses: coincidence. I remain baffled by the profusion, in particular, of reissues of classic diving watches, which are big seasonal buys.

The angel on my right shoulder says: “Accidental!” But the devil on my left shouts: “Collusion!” We are not talking about anything nefarious, nor even suspect, but it does make for great conversation when a group of watch nuts gather.

This minor concern aside, I am not complaining, merely commenting. I absolutely LOVE the plethora of returning diving classics, despite never getting my watches wet. I acquired my Panerais over 20 years ago, not suspecting for a second that the mid-1990s revival of this brand would be the harbinger of a stampede. But I succumbed to it and ordered my Longines Legend Diver when it was announced at Baselworld 2007, did the same for last year’s killer from Certina – the bargain-of-the-decade DS PH200M – and also grabbed a Tudor Black Bay Black last year.

Longines Legend Diver
Longines Legend Diver
Tudor Black Bay Black
Tudor Black Bay Black

Reining in my lust, thanks only to financial constraint, I have so far had to resist Oris’s sublime Divers Sixty-Five, the perennially revived Doxa of orange-dial fame, Rado’s Captain Cook, a cluster of delightful Seikos and too many more to list. The various reincarnated Jaeger-LeCoultres and Blancpains, too, are clearly out of my league.

It would seem, then, that any brand with classic/heritage diving watches in its back catalogue is ready to revive them for a voracious market. Deliciously, there’s a whiff of irony provided by brands with histories that don’t date back much beyond the turn of this century, yet they, too, have fed the maw of the diving watch market with pastiches that are the match of any reissues of classics. Anonimo, founded by ex-Panerai personnel, springs to mind, while U-Boat allegedly has its roots in designs mooted but not realized during WWII.

Bargains prevail: I’m totally charmed by Steinhart’s interpretations of major timepieces at absurdly low prices, while Christopher Ward has an absolute honey of a timepiece in the blue dial/blue bezel C65 Trident Automatic. This gem actually looks like it should have been around when the Beach Boys were singing Help Me, Rhonda and posing with surfboards. And Trieste? All that class for under S$1,000? It’s a golden era.

Christopher Ward C65 Trident Automatic
Christopher Ward C65 Trident Automatic

Will we ever reach “peak diving watch”? I doubt this will happen, especially when so many of these back-from-the-dead timepieces represent incredible value for money while promising tool watch durability and a genuine level of cool. Hey, not everyone can afford a Rolex Submariner or an Omega Planet Ocean, but the Christopher Ward and Steinhart divers cost under a grand, while Certina, Hamilton and others have reissued genuine historic models at sane prices.

Why am I harping on price? This isn’t a reflection on their prices as being a compromise. Rather, it’s safe to say that more people lose watches on vacation than during their normal, day-to-day periods. Thefts from hotels and changing-rooms, pilferage on beaches, watches falling off in the pool or while at sea… one has to admit that losing a S$1,000 watch is far less painful than the loss of one costing S$10,000.

What affordable, mechanical retro-diving watches deliver is seriously desirable, image-enhancing timekeeping with lower risk. And I say this with utter bemusement: I’ve garnered more compliments for my Certina DS PH200M than just about any watch I own.

Certina DS PH200M
Certina DS PH200M